TAMPA — Between the NCAA’s four levels of play (FBS, FCS, DII, DIII) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) there are 762 four-year colleges and universities playing football this season.
That puts the number of players well north of 60,000. From that pool 179 were named semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy. The award “recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.”
One of the semifinalists is University of South Florida defensive back Jaymon Thomas. The senior is one of only three players from the state of Florida on the exclusive list and the only one among the state’s seven universities that compete at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
“It was exciting,” said Thomas when asked about his feelings when he found out he was a semifinalist. “It’s an honor to be one of the few names mentioned on that list. I have put in a lot of hard work on and off the field. It’s just an honor to me and my family and the people that surround me that have helped me get to where I am today.”
The criteria for inclusion in such select company includes being a senior or graduate student, carry at least a 3.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale, possess strong leadership and citizenship characteristics while also consistently contributing to the on-field cause.
Twelve to 14 finalists will be selected by the National Football Foundation (NFF) on Oct. 31.
“Jaymon Thomas has clearly established a record for pursuing excellence in everything he does at South Florida, both on and off the field,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. “The pool of Campbell Trophy semifinalists represents the top scholar-athletes from each school in the nation, and we take great pride in holding them out as role models for young players to emulate. Jaymon certainly deserves the spotlight, and we’re proud to showcase him as a Campbell Trophy semifinalist.”
Thomas, who graduates in December, certainly checks the requisite boxes. As a health science major with a 3.5 GPA, the Immokalee native has certainly made the most of his time within his field of study. Among the things he has accomplished include serving two internships (with teammate Kirk Livingstone) at the school’s college of pharmacy under Dr. Kevin Sneed, senior associate vice president of USF Health and the dean of the college of pharmacy.
Thomas and Livingstone have tackled a few projects together and at one point developed a medicinal cream.
“It was a little project we were working on,” said Thomas, a three-time American Athletic Conference all-academic member. “We both had a lot of scars because we obviously play football. So I said, “Dr. Sneed, why don’t we make a cream for scars and see if that works?’ We went into the laboratory and made it. It was pretty cool.”
Did it work?
“I didn’t use it as much, but it should work,” he said, grinning.
One thing is for sure and that is such projects have been part of a meaningful academic experience. Not that Thomas would have it any other way. After all his parents, John and Tameja, were student-athletes at Texas College in Tyler, Texas. They made it known that Jaymon couldn’t crack open the playbooks unless he had his head in his textbooks.
“Since Pop Warner, if I didn’t have the right grades I couldn’t go out and play,” he said. “My parents were teachers as well, so having that background was important for me to take care of my business academically.”
Thomas is taking care of his business on the gridiron as well. Through Saturday’s homecoming victory over UConn he was fifth on the team in tackles with 37. Last season he recorded 44 tackles (30 solo) and completed the year on a high note with an interception in a Birmingham Bowl victory over Texas Tech.
“The thing about Jaymon is that he is an unbelievable student,” said coach Charlie Strong. “He did an internship with Dr. Sneed and academics is very important to him. Then you watch how he competes on the football field. It is a credit to how he can go on the field and compete and then get in the classroom and compete. He an all-around individual and an unbelievable young man.”
That well-roundedness also includes community service and speaking to youths, two reasons why Thomas is also on the Wuerffel Trophy watch list. Named after former Florida and NFL quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, the trophy is awarded to the college football player who best “combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.”
Like education, community service is something with which Thomas derives much pride. He is a member of Kappa Si Pharmaceutical Fraternity, through which he is able to perform community service, including helping with a breast cancer awareness program earlier this month.
“When I was growing up I saw the importance of older people, people you look up to, talking to you and wanting to help and give advice,” he said. “I have the pedestal with which to do that for kids and people that are less fortunate. I want to make a change in their lives.”
John teaches at New Beginnings, an alternative school in Immokalee designed to help students who were disruptive in a traditional school setting, and Thomas has visited the school to speak to students. Being able to lend a guiding hand to any group of youths is something that gives him much good feeling.
“It means a lot when you see the smiles on their face,” he said. “You make their day and you give them some kind of hope they didn’t have before. That’s all I could ask for.”
Thomas has been able to more than capably balance academic demands with those of a heavy football schedule that includes, but certainly not limited to, games, practice and travel. As such, he would be a good resource for other student-athletes, especially younger ones, to tap into.
“Use your resources,” he said when asked what his message would be. “People (arrive at the university) thinking they can go through everything by themselves. In college there are people around that can help you, whether it is on the field or off the field. Some people don’t utilize others and they get stuck in a hole thinking they can do everything by themselves. Use the people around you. They will help you get to where you want to go.”
Jaymon Thomas is on his way to where he wants to go.
The other semifinalists from the Sunshine State are Jacksonville University (FCS) receiver Nic Duch and Justin Slaughter, an offensive lineman from Edward Waters College. The NAIA school is in Jacksonville.